Christmas used to be special. It used to be magical for some of us a long way back. You know, when we were kids? We all had our own thing to do at Christmas time, our own little traditions. Mine was listening to the same CD on my Sony Walkman as I went to sleep. My brother’s was playing games of war with plastic army men in the Christmas tree. Tradition and presents meant a good Christmas. The problem is, for a lot of us, once the presents part of the equation was dropped, along with the H-bomb about Santa, Christmas wasn’t so cool any more, and the magic left it faster than my self-esteem at a Twilight screening.
But Christmas was magical for more reasons than just the presents under the tree. It was the feeling of family and unity, crafted through all the family activities along the way. Setting up the tree, ticking off dates on the advent calendar, writing a letter and placing it on the fireplace before bed. All these things combined formed the tradition of the Christmas holidays and sparked in us an excitement and wonder.
So isn’t it kind of sad that it’s gone now?
We no longer think of presents, instead we think of project deadlines. There’s no hot chocolate, instead there’s Bulmers and Guinness. We don’t tick off the days until the Christmas holidays begin, instead we mentally tick off the days left until the term ends. But more than anything else nowadays, the biggest difference is there’s no change in our lives this time of year. If nothing in your routine changes coming up to this festive season, you can’t just wake up some morning, see that there are X weeks left and all of a sudden feel hyped up and jolly. You need to start embracing some of the old traditions you left behind.
I could live up to the stereotype and say get wasted. A lot. But honestly that would be utter bullshit. The vast majority of people I know don’t dream of simply getting shitfaced throughout Christmas. Quite a lot of people want to do the small activities which make Christmas its own event, so here’s my attempt to list out a few of these.
So first things first, go see a play or, if you’re completely comfortable with your sexuality, see the Nutcracker ballet. Weird, yes. Childish, no. Remember when you were young and your school would organise a Christmas play? Well, your family had as much fun watching you perform as you did rehearsing. Now that we’re older, but yet not old enough to have the patience of middle aged parents, we can settle for a semi-professional performance at the Cork Opera House. There are always tons of plays being staged leading up to Christmas Day, and they are all truly worth checking out. You’ll have a laugh, and it’s always nice to do something different for a change.
Next up, go baking. I’m talking gingerbread houses iced up to the nines. An hour to bake and a whole day to ice, but it’s an activity which passes by super quick when you have a few reliable friends willing to commit and persevere. Improvisation is the key; allow yourself to get creative with the decorations. I’ve seen people use red liquorice to form the window outlines, or green gummy drops to create hedges outside the front door. And don’t just stop with the gingerbread house – try making cinnamon sugar pretzels, shortbread or fudge. Even if you usually never go near a kitchen workspace, make an effort this Christmas. Most of the fun is the baking, not the eating. But then if your work turns out anything like the picture accompanying this text… well the eating could be quite fun indeed.
Okay, so you’ve cringed, and grudgingly laughed, your way through attending a Christmas play and now your house smells lovely because you’ve baked up something sweet and sugary, this is the perfect time to plonk your ass down and watch some quality TV. But let’s face it, Ireland’s weather around Christmas is shit and Christmas TV is what’s left after the shit goes bad, so when I say TV what I really mean is box sets of TV series. Breaking Bad, Friends, How I Met Your Mother, Doctor Who – whatever the series, tell yourself you’re going to watch a whole season and do it. The trick here is to not feel guilty about it. Some people have the ability to be complete lazy sods and never feel bad for it. I find it really difficult to do that. If I’m sitting down watching TV, I get that tingling, feeling of unease. If you are like me, you’ve got to shrug off the feeling and remind yourself, these are your holidays, there to be spent as you choose. Have the kettle boiled and throw your feet up.
Next thing is to get out of the house for a bit. I tend to do this on Christmas Eve when the city is abuzz with last-minute shoppers and just generally excited, happy people. Give money to all the charities you see, this will buy you a certain sticker which will then grant you invisibility to all the charity chums, and feel good about giving. If you have younger siblings, bring them along and try to remember how you felt when you were their age. Soak up the atmosphere, will yourself to be happy even if you just feel cold and grumpy. Hopefully after a while they’ll go off with a parent and you can meet up with friends for a quick coffee before heading home.
On Christmas Day, be the most selfless you that you can be. Don’t be on your own, don’t retreat to your room or avoid conversation. Just talk, and talk, and care. It sounds downright cheesy of me to say this, but family is everything. Take your head out of the college game for a bit and focus on family. Don’t mind the Facebook statuses for a bit, and put off the blog post till next week. Lay off the technology. Unless you’re Skyping your family in Australia or the States, it tends to get in the way. There are the gifts, the Christmas dinner, the visiting relatives, the phone calls, the hot chocolate, the final tick on the advent calendar – this is all part of the tradition you need to embrace to get the most out of the season.
On Christmas day, actually be there.